Friday, May 27, 2011

Eating only the animals that you kill

My take on Facebook creator's newest personal challenge

A friend sent me a link to a story about how Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg challenged himself to only eat animals that he has personally killed. Read the story at

I have to be honest here. As much as I am thankful for our modern agriculture systems and accessibility to food, I think this is a great way to learn respect for where our food comes from. Animals are living beings, and they are giving their lives to sustain their consumers. Many people who do not raise their own livestock take that fact for granted.

My parents were far from being wealthy, so when I was growing up we raised rabbits, chickens and goats to help whittle down the grocery bill. Thankfully, we had a few acres to accomplish this on. My father was also an avid hunter; I’ve eaten deer, squirrel, groundhog, turtle, frog, and probably a few more species that were not divulged to me. Therefore most of the meat, eggs and milk came directly from our labors on our farm or from local wild animals.

While I can’t say that I WANT to watch the slaughter and cleaning of animals at this time in my life, I was a very watchful fan when I was younger. My daddy made sure that death came swiftly to reduce their suffering. I was also amazed at his skill in preparing the animals just before dinner time.

This experience allowed me to respect my food a great deal, and I am to the point where I want my children to have this experience as well. Therefore, we are now chicken farmers.

I will be sure to blog about this little endeavor we have undertaken in more detail soon, but I want my children to learn what it takes to care for and raise our food (Sure, I could have started a garden, but the only thing my land seems to grow well are rocks, weeds, trees and wild blackberries.)

Collecting the eggs will be the easy part, but I am still trying to convince my daughter that we should also eat most of the roosters, and eventually the older hens. She does not like that idea at all. I ask her how is it any different than eating a chicken that we bought at the store. She replies that we did not love those chickens. That is my point exactly!

I have eaten many “pets” in my life. While farmers generally do not like to name their livestock, I do not have a problem with it. It makes me feel that I have a relationship with the animal, encourages me to give it the best care, and then I say a prayer for it and to God before it becomes my next meal.

I recently asked my dad to show me how to slaughter and prepare a chicken. My grandmothers and great-grandmothers did it on a regular basis, so I should be able to as well. I am certain this will take my respect for our food animals to the highest level.

Killing your own meat may not be the right personal challenge for a lot of people, so my challenge to everyone is this: KNOW YOUR FOOD. Even if you don’t raise it or kill it, please think about its life and give thanks. Please also get to know the farmers in your area. You would be amazed at the level of care and respect that most farmers take in raising our food, which is also their food.

Monday, May 9, 2011

How Can We Best Tackle Childhood Obesity?

I saw story on NBC’s Today last Friday morning about Georgia’s Children’s Health Alliance Child Obesity Campaign, and some believe the ads are alienating overweight children further. I am not completely convinced that they crossed that line. I see more kids than ever who are overweight or obese, and I don’t like it. But how do we effectively tell our kids (and their parents) that they are not healthy without making them feel bad?

Unfortunately, this is something I struggle with in my own family. I was never a thin child; I was always a little heavier (and taller) than most of the kids in school, but never to the point that I was teased about it. And yes, I admit, I am still about 30 pounds heavier than what my doctor would like me to be (but I’m successfully working on it). My husband struggled more with his weight as a child and a young adult – his mother said it’s because he is a member of the “keg” family. In both of our cases, bad genetics aside, our ability to hold on to extra pounds was nearly 100% due to the facts that we ate too much and we didn’t get enough physical activity. I hate to blame our parents and grandparents, but 1) kids don’t eat what they can’t get a hold of, and 2) they learn eating and exercise/activity habits from the people in their lives.

My husband was finally able to drop 50 pounds about 12 years ago when he adamantly asked his late grandmother, whom he visited daily, to stop providing him chips and chocolate to snack on. (Don’t you hate that it is just that easy for men to drop weight).

So, two “easy keepers” produced some offspring. In this current world of health-consciousness, image-consciousness and our easy access to food (thank you, God, farmers and our great country) you can imagine that I am concerned that my children may also one day worry about their weights and appearance like I did and still do. And unfortunately, this issue is already creeping into my relationship with my eight-year-old daughter. Like me at the same age, she carries some extra weight for a kid her height. It does not seem to bother her in the least right now, but I worry it may in the future. I don’t want that for her. Unfortunately, people judge others on their appearance. Being heavy is an automatic sign that you are not in control of your health or life.

No one can accuse me of not being aware of what healthy eating is, or not caring, or continually shoving high-sugar, high-fat treats into my kids mouths to make them happy. She has always been a wonderful eater – lots of green and yellow veggies, fresh fruits, fish, lean meats, nuts, etc. My food philosophy is “good stuff most of the time, treats some of the time.” I think it is mentally healthy to allow yourself some happy eating, just not every day. I also encourage more activity: we ride our horses (but not nearly enough), we play active games on the Wii, we go for walks, and she will occasionally work out with me if it isn’t too hard. This is all a good start, but I think we could do more.

I really, really want to blame grandparents right now – Sorry, Granny and Nana. I spent a lot of time with a doting, spoiling grandmother who let me eat as much of whatever I wanted. My daughter also has a grandmother that does just the same, even though she won’t admit it. My husband and I try to have regular conversations with Nana about what appropriate meals and snacks should be, but it just isn’t being understood to the extent we would like. My child gives me reports on what she eats on a visit, and I am usually very disappointed.

Spoiling grandparents aside, the bigger reason we are more overweight as a society than ever is because of technology. I am a true believer in making things more efficient, but many of us don’t have to exert any real physical energy to do our jobs. Same goes for kids. Instead of running the neighborhood they are glued to the TV, computers and video games. I will take some blame for that aspect of my child’s health. I don’t limit “sitting” time at my house like I should. I guess I feel it is “okay” since most of her activities are mentally enriching.

So, again, how do I and the many other caring parents out there attempt to make our children healthier without making them—or their caregivers—feel as if they are less than perfect or accepted and loved?

First, I think we need to apologize to our kids. After watching the ads of the aforementioned campaign, I believe parents and caregivers will and should feel some shame for contributing to their kids’ weight problems. (Just so someone doesn’t jump down my throat for that comment, I do realize that some weight gain is a symptom of other more serious health problems, and is not anyone’s fault. That is not the case for most people.) We should be honest about why there is a problem.

Second, we need to be committed as parents and caregivers to do what is best for our children, even if it makes them unhappy. Learn all you can about nutrition and healthy activity from the right sources: registered dieticians and certified health professionals … not self-proclaimed, celebrity experts trying to sell you something. Yes, I know it is overwhelming these days, but I always look to good-old common sense. I hate always telling my child that she can’t have a desert after every meal, or she can’t have a snack because she just ate an hour ago, but I have to.

Third, walk the talk. If we aren’t doing what we want our kids to do, why would they adopt that behavior? Make your child your accountability partner. It is fun for them to catch you doing something you shouldn’t, and it makes them more conscious of their actions.

Better health is a work in progress for my family. Writing this helped me reevaluate my tactics about healthy eating and exercising. I try to never, ever approach the subject as if I have a problem with my daughter’s appearance, but I just hope that she does not equate “healthy” with thin. I have been losing weight, but I try to say things like, “I just love being stronger,” or “I am so proud of the fact that I was able to run a mile without stopping,” instead of, “look how much skinnier I am.” We have also signed up for a competitive swim team for the summer. That may just be what the doctor ordered.

A quick note before I close – I feel very blessed to have more than enough food to get fat on in the first place. So many people across the world are not that fortunate. I can understand why some say that we need to have less cheap, processed foods available to us, but I don’t think only buying local, banning high-fructose corn syrup and suing McDonald’s is the answer. We just need to better educate those that need help and learn to treat food as a wonderful gift of fuel and nourishment rather than something that makes us feel good.
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